Zahraa Berro, Founder of Zahraa the Label
My whole journey started when I graduated college. I was doing medical school because my dad always wanted me to become a doctor, which is very common in Arabic households. Parents want to raise their children to be the best in society, because they grew up in a very difficult or poor situation. These are those parents who had the opportunity to emigrate to United States and own smoke shops or gas stations. They saw for themselves that it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur, so they want a better life for their kids. My dad was like that too. He was an entrepreneur all his life.
When he heard about my plans to go out on my own, he was not happy. But I was married at the time and not a part of his house anymore, so there was only so much he could say. I told him, that the career he had in mind for me wouldn´t work out as he wanted it. At the end of the day, he couldn´t force me to be something that I wasn´t passionate about. Did I want to be a doctor? I did. Was I capable enough to become a doctor? No, I didn´t. I failed in genetics, I failed in organic chemistry, I failed in physics. That’s when I switched careers and started studying business at Wayne State University in Detroit and majored in accounting.
After I graduated, I worked as an accountant for a nonprofit organization for a couple of years. In 2018, when I got divorced, I started my social media channel on Instagram which quite quickly started to grow – even though that was just something I did on the weekend. For the first 1,5 years nobody on Social Media even knew that I was a mother, because I didn’t share my children. I was actually really ashamed of my journey and being divorced. The community can really scrutinize you and blame you for a lot of things. I just wanted to avoid all of that at all costs, so I barely talked about it.
Today, I’m in a completely different mindset and space. My struggles have helped me to develop a successful journey for myself and my children. I am more vocal about it and I love to inspire men and women that have had struggles in their life. Especially divorced women in the Muslim community, really don’t hear this enough. Unfortunately, I believe that it might be a cultural thing. Just like a lot of other faiths, it’s frowned upon to be divorced. And that’s wrong. You shouldn’t label somebody as a failed person just because they’ve been divorced. Actually, in the contrary: a lot of times divorce is not failure, it´s success, because you we´re able to leave a toxic or a negative situation that only drains you. Getting a divorce allows you to get out of it. You can have a business that’s up and running in five years, that’s worth 40 or 50 million dollars. And maybe with everything you experienced before, you just were in the wrong space. So, my divorce was a blessing in disguise and I don´t see it as a failure. I always remember, it was a successful thing that I did right there. It´s not the end of the damn world! What matters is you and how you feel. This is what you can do and here’s what I did. And if I did it, you sure as hell can do it – and maybe even better.
I really try to be an advocate for that, not by sharing too much of my details, but just by sharing a glimpse of my life and what it’s like being a single muslim mother and aspiring entrepreneur. That´s also why I have a YouTube channel that helps me to share these things with people on a more detailed level. They get to see my life. They get to see me operating like this after being divorced for four years.
I´m building an authentic brand where I not only show my business, but also myself on a personal level. I am my brand and my brand is me. That also makes me interact socially in a very conscious manner. I see friendships differently, but also business meetings. I have no friends. I mean, I have friends, obviously. But they’re not people I see daily or speak to daily. Quite honestly, I have not found my group of people yet, who can help me to be better than I am now. I just don’t want to be with people who might make me steer away from my values, beliefs, my path or who are distracting me from who I want to become. As a business owner I think about every meeting, every event or every dinner, lunch, brunch, whatever is, if it´s something that’s going to help me improve on some type of level. I love being in a room with e-commerce and business owners; people where I could learn from and we could have valuable conversations. I don’t want small talk and I am not interested in gossip. Instead, I want to talk about numbers, about being a multimillion-dollar brand in the next two, three years and how you can help me to get there. Or if you know somebody that can connect me with that. This is this is the type of relationship I look for.
credit: Zahraa the Label
In September of 2018, I became very passionate about a neck cover that I was wearing. Back then, something like this didn’t exist in the broad market. The one I was wearing was a very cheap version, but people kept asking me where I got it from. So, I started to give people links to this product on Amazon and noticed how people just kept buying it. Since I had already a blog back then, I decided that I would sell it on my own. I ordered new products worth 300 $, took some pictures in my bedroom and sold them 9,99 $ a piece. I was buying them for 1,50 $ and sold out completely. Somehow, I made 6,000 $ in one month. People were buying them from Canada, Australia, Singapore. I just knew, that I was onto something here – and best of all, I liked it.
I had done some drop shipping before I got back with my ex-husband, but for some reason it didn’t work for me. I think the problem was that I didn’t quite understand the logistics of e-commerce. I was targeting people randomly versus focusing on a specific audience. Now I know how important it is to really know who your audience is. So even though my first attempt at this failed, when I tried it the second time with an actual strategy in mind, it all worked out.
Something in my heart always told me that I was entrepreneurial, even though I still failed many times. I never had and will have a plan B for the case my label wouldn´t work out, simply because it’s not an option. I love what I´m doing. I think about this. I work at this. I mean, I call this work, but I am literally living my dream. Even though I never worked or interned for another designer and maybe don´t have the typical background other founders of fashion labels have, I know that I just have a sense of style. I have an eye for things. And I can hire anybody to draw something that I’m inspired by. That’s not hard.
In fact, I was thinking big right from the beginning. My brand will be international and we do have hopes of having our store in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait; in these really large, predominantly Muslim countries. They are Middle Eastern by culture, but they’re very inspired by Western fashion. I am a Muslim American and I’m designing pieces that solve Muslim problems.
“We’re not Gucci, we’re not Prada, we’re not Fendi, and we don’t have a history and a name that has pushed us up. We don’t have investors. In fact, I started this with my blood, sweat and tears, and I still not where I want to be.”
credit: Zahraa the Label
Right now, as every startup, I need to work with what I have and I have to play all roles even though I have 12 employees in different parts of the world. If I don’t play those roles, I wouldn´t know when something is wrong. If I hire somebody for that role, I will learn how to do it in the first place so I know what I´m talking about and be able to understand the job requirements better. Based on this, I´m able to say “you’re doing this wrong” because I know how to design a website or set up a shop. I want and need to be able to take over when necessary and not be dependent on somebody.
We’re not Gucci, we’re not Prada, we’re not Fendi, and we don’t have a history and a name that has pushed us up over decades. We don’t have Investors. In fact, I started this with my blood, sweat and tears, and I´m still not where I want to be. I still get paid a very small amount compared to everybody else on my team. I have employees in leadership positions that take a pretty good penny home, but I don’t. And I’m fine with that. One day, I know that I will be taking home a big salary, but not now and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being simple until I could be lavish and bougie. In the long run, I don’t want to do everything and I should only be doing two things: being the executive officer of my company and always have an integration with design, production and all things creative. I actually like to call myself the creative executive designer, even though I might not be designing things on paper, but I can tell my team what to design.
A lot of times I look at a designer´s work and think, this is gorgeous, this is fantastic! How can I make it modest to fit my main niche. I want to find solutions, be there for my customers and honoring my responsibility as an entrepreneur – and as a social media influencer. That´s where my Social Media presence comes into play. My label can act fast because we get instant feedback. Bigger brands do some market research, then adapt their whole designing and manufacturing process before they´re actually able to react to the consumer needs. And just about when they´re ready, the trend already may have been changed again. That’s why it’s so important in my opinion to not follow trends. Take what works and make sure that it’s something that can survive for many years in a sustainable and ethical manner.
Photography: Zahraa The Label
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